In keeping with the world’s recent life-imitating-art forays (see previous posts- Wallace and Grommit and 1984) the latest imaginary universe to get dragged into reality is Quake.

The Register has a piece with the title USAF flying deathbot power-grab rebuffed. This links to an earlier Register post that claimed:

Everyone knows about the current rise of the aerial killer robot. These machines are now in operation across the US military, and have already reaped a deadly harvest in Southwest Asia.
But the big deathbot battle isn’t, in fact, in Iraq or Afghanistan; it’s between the various branches of the US armed services, regarding who will be in charge of all the new flying slaughter machines and spy-eyes.

(Who really cares which branch of the US forces controls the deathbots? )

I’m not “everyone” to the Register then, because this was news to me. These Quake-esque machines are all called suitably sci-fi names: “Predator”, “Reaper”, “Sky Warrior”. The language just oozes harmless sci-fi gaming:- dramatic uber-manly words with minimal connection to reality.

It must be much easier to deal death and destruction if you never actually get to see your enemy face to face. There’s a lot less chance of getting mentally messed up for life if you are dropping bombs rather than bayonetting someone who you have to look in the eye. (Obviously, being on the recieving end is just as unpleasant in either case but at least one gives you the chance of fighting back.)

How much more detached would you be from the consequences if you just press the Start button on a deathbot and let it go off to do its own natural thing. Even easier if the whole experience is just like playing an computer game.

Saying that modern warfare is becoming like a PC game is a cliche point, repeated ad nauseam in workplaces all over the UK a few months ago, when the TV stations released video footage of a “friendly fire” event (friendly fire always sounds so chummy and innocuous, itself). This looked for all the world like a recorded “video” from a Quake 3 tournament.

This depersonalising war doesn’t make it any less deadly. In fact the numbers of dead and injured people involved in modern wars defy the imagination. Not that anyone seems to count numbers as representing human beings, once they get beyond about half a dozen. Hundreds of thousands of people don’t mean anything to us because we can’t actually see the bodies. The notoriously bloody medieval conflicts probably wouldn’t even merit a mention on the main News if we matched the numbers today.

The Guardian
today reported that the head of the UN Nuclear agency was warning of the dangers of war with Iran, following a disturbing “Brace yourself for war” comment from the French foreign minister.

“There are rules on how to use force, and I would hope that everybody would have gotten the lesson after the Iraq situation, where 700,000 innocent civilians have lost their lives on the suspicion that a country has nuclear weapons.”

I’ll take that 700,000 as an accurate count of deaths, just because I have no way of testing it. I certainly can’t form a mental picture of that number of people, alive or dead. A small city’s worth of people? A couple of really big football crowds, to adapt the traditional “football pitch” measure of area? (which is always wasted on me because I can’t really picture a football pitch area, either.)

The whole point about death in a computer game is that it is just a minor irritant. At worst, you respawn somewhere without your best conceptual “weapons” and have to dodge the opposition players camping there, who are waiting to kill you again.

Unfortunately, in the real world, it’s “war” itself that keeps respawning. Once a human player loses an eye or a leg or their life, that’s it, they are out of the game for good.